Death Valley National Park Prepares Tourists For Summer Heat Wave

17 hours ago
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This week is the beginning of summer, and this year here in the West, there is a heat wave. At the Grand Canyon this week, it's supposed to be more than 110 degrees. At Zion National Park in Utah, temperatures are predicted to go as high as 115. To talk about what to expect if you're planning to travel in this heat, we called up someone who works at the hottest place on Earth. Abby Wines is a management assistant in Death Valley National Park. Hi there.

ABBY WINES: Hi there.

MCEVERS: So how hot is it today?

WINES: Oh, right now 114 degrees.

MCEVERS: Whew.

WINES: But (laughter) it was 124 yesterday. We'll probably get up to at least that again today.

MCEVERS: Wow. So put that in perspective. Like, is that pretty normal for Death Valley, or are we at a time when this is just sort of out of the ordinary?

WINES: Every summer, we have temperatures of at least 125 usually just a few days out of the year. And three of the summers I've been here, it's reached 129. So this is normal. It's a little early to be this hot, but not record-breakingly early.

MCEVERS: Well, what does it feel like?

WINES: Open up your oven (laughter) and stick your head in it, but imagine that around your entire body. So it's a dry heat just like the heat that comes out of your oven, but it's completely engulfing your body. Everyone here has a slightly different reaction to it. In my case, my entire forehead goes numb. Other people tell me that their lips tingle or their ears hurt. It's all kind of random. But it's hot.

MCEVERS: Are there a lot of tourists there now?

WINES: There are. So this weekend, which was our first really hot weekend of the year, we were right about normal for this time of year as far as the number of people that came. And surprisingly, July and August, which are usually hotter than June, are much busier months, and we usually get between 100,000 and 110,000 people.

MCEVERS: Wow. What brings people to Death Valley at a time when they know it's going to be really, really hot?

WINES: Partly that they know it's going to be really, really hot. Most of our visitors in the summer are from other countries. So imagine living in Northern Europe. You want to take a vacation to visit some place to experience something different from what you experience at home. And the Southwest of the United States is very different from Germany, and Death Valley is the most extreme place there.

MCEVERS: Right, but these are people who don't have experience with being in the heat, so what do you guys do there to, you know, help people stay safe and not get dehydrated?

WINES: So we have big signs as you enter the park saying excessive heat warning. And then at the visitor center, our routine contact with every visitor that comes in is to warn them that it's very hot, recommend that they not leave their car, which has air conditioning, for more than 15 minutes at a time, recommend that they go to the viewpoints at higher elevations, which are going to be cooler, that they bring plenty of water, several gallons of water with them per day and wear a sun hat, wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that breathes well.

Another thing that we warn people is that they should consider staying on paved roads that are well traveled within the park. That way if something goes wrong, someone else is likely to come along and help them out.

MCEVERS: Abby Wines is the management assistant at Death Valley National Park. Thanks so much.

WINES: Sure. Thank you.

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